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Brazil: Female Bloggers React to the Country's First Female President: Yes, She Can!

The missing image: Dilma, the warrior, with the presidential sash. From the Abundacanalha blog.

When she takes Brazil's presidential oath of office, Dilma Rousseff will usher in a new era in the country's political history: she will be the first woman in a group consisting thus far of 35 male presidents. Dilma will also be the first Brazilian woman, and the 18th woman ever, to join the elite club of female leaders currently in power as presidents or prime ministers throughout the world.

For Adriana Tanese Nogueira [pt], this historic moment is certainly a sign of changing times and of yet immeasurable magnitude. According to Tanese, only time will gauge the significance of Brazil's election of its first-ever female president:

It is important to stress the deep symbolism of this election: a woman holds the country's highest office and, [not just any woman, but] a woman who joined the armed resistance against the military dictatorship. This is huge.

Conscientious women throughout the country are watching Dilma, hoping that she brings justice to the condition of women in Brazil and that she presents herself as an icon of female strength, valiance and intelligence.

The political left and all those against the dictatorship, all those who value democracy and are not content simply with conventional roles and money in their pockets are viewing this election with pride.

Cynthia Semirames [pt] has taken the opportunity to depict Brazil's political history from a feminist standpoint, reminding readers that, in the '20s, when her grandmother was born, women were not allowed to vote, that only in 1932 did they gain the right to help decide how the country would be run. For Cynthia, Dilma's election musters a wave of hope for so many Brazilian women:

It is interesting to see that the first woman to reach the presidency of Brazil does not hail from a political background (one of the most macho public arenas): she stood out and was chosen as a candidate on account of her professional skills. She is a symbol of hope for so many women who are excellent professionals but who face a glass ceiling, women whose work goes unrecognized and who are prevented from breaking into the upper echelons of the workforce.

It is great to know that we have broken the glass ceiling and have elected Dilma Rousseff: an extremely competent professional who will be a leftist president.

The times are changing, and new questions arise, such as: should Dilma be called presidente [traditional Portuguese term for president, masculine gender] or presidenta [somewhat more recently coined term for president, female gender]? Dad Squarisi [pt] explains that Portuguese-language dictionaries include both entries and that what is ultimately at stake is the question of feminist power in political discourse. She notes that, until recently, there was no reason to be concerned with terminology:

The question is new. A few years ago, nobody ever thought about the concrete possibility of a woman truly donning the green-yellow presidential sash. The topic was raised as a Utopian hypothesis, a kind of like-that-day-will-ever-happen attitude…. and then bam! It happened! The number of female voters outstripped the number of male voters, and candidates began courting women's votes in earnest.

Looking back in history, we actually see that Brazil had female leaders on three occasions before the republic was proclaimed: the Queen of Portugal D. Maria I governed the country remotely beginning in 1777; Maria Leopoldina, wife of D. Pedro I, became the first empress of Brazil in 1822; and Princess Isabel served as the country's regent in her father's absence. For Maíra Kubík Mano [pt], the fact that all of these women hailed from the Portuguese Royal Family reinforces the importance of Dilma as the first woman elected by the Brazilian populace, especially when considering the leadership of country with very little female representation in elected posts and with a long way still to go in terms of policy in favor of women:

Symbolically, this is incredible, regardless of your ideological bent, especially considering how women are remarkably underrepresented in national politics: in the last legislature, we women accounted for only 8.97% of the House of Representatives and 12.34% of the Senate, and these figures decreased in 2010. In fact, if this were our basis for calculating female representation, I would venture to say that it would take us another 100 years to see what took place today….

Dilma will become the third female president in South America, and it would be good if, on certain issues, she followed the examples set by her fellow commanders-in-chief. Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president and current executive director of UN Women, appointed women to 50% of her cabinet when she took office, a measure that was also pursued by Bolivia's Evo Morales. In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner not only approved gay marriage, but also pushed the country just shy of decriminalizing abortion.

Despite all the election hype surrounding Brazil's first female president, Edi Machado [pt] thinks that there was not exactly a change in the population's mindset and she holds to the belief that Lula was the real candidate; Dilma was just a nominal candidate in this election:

Fault Dilma? No, not at all; I just think that the real winner was Lula. I think that there is no way to deny this, that within the confines of what was “legally permissible,” he did what he had proposed in his numerous candidacies until being elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006; and I would say that he was elected once again in 2010. It's true — [Dilma] only won because [Lula] threw all his support behind her…. We can now only hope that God is with our country's first “presidenta” in all the decisions she makes and, if its not asking too much, that He help her be a good president for the good of a the entire, immense nation of Brazil.

A Hora da Estrela

Commemoration on the streets of Natal, Rio Grande do Norte. Photo by Isaac Ribeiro under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

On the other hand, while Alane Virgínia [pt] does agree that voting-booth approval for the candidate who was supported by the current president certainly means that the population approved of Lula's government, she rejects the claim that the people voted for Dilma merely because she was Lula's protégé. Alane believes that results actually show a national desire to keep the left in power:

As I understand it, voting for Dilma has to do with the national desire for the country's leadership to continue along the lines established by Lula. Our choice involved a risk; we voted in the hopes that Dilma will essentially continue to pursue  Lula's model of government.

No, I do not think the people voted for an unknown. I think the people voted for an ideology, fragile as it might be. It was a vote of trust.

Despite various positive and enthusiastic responses to Dilma's election, Brazil was beset with a wave of xenophobic comments [pt] that ran rampant on the internet even while votes were still being counted. Many unsatisfied voters “blamed” the poor, natives of the Northeast and those with little formal education for the election's “unfavorable” outcome. Lola Aronovich [pt] claims that the root of this reaction was the opposition candidate's lack of love for his country in his electoral campaign:

A blog ascribed to the extreme right explains Serra's defeat through unbelievably racist discourse: evolution divided the world into civilized peoples (white Europeans and Americans) and savages (Africans, the indigenous and their descendants, which he calls botocudos [derogatory term for indigenous peoples]).We Brazilians fall under the backwards side of the divide, with literally smaller brains, according to fascism. And we should copy the American electoral system because this business of letting the majority elect the president is only cool when we win. Another blog argued for zero tolerance for the new government and called for the blue wave (what blue wave, we might ask) to attack with the force of a devastating tsunami. And they are already shouting out their call to arms, even before the president takes office: “Get out Dilma!”

Dealing with the distrust and prejudice of a segment of the population, and with the media's visibly fierce opposition [pt] will be one of the challenges that Dilma's government will face. Could it be that she will be able to use her female sensitivities to overcome this? An opposition voter, Conceição Duarte [pt], asks that the president not be distracted by this fact and that she not forget that Brazil “is big, beautiful and lavish,” that all its inhabitants are full of dreams as well:

We, the Brazilian people, we want health, peace, safety, housing, employment. And incidentally better public transport. Water and sewage, lower taxes, opportunities for all, equality for women who work beside men yet earn less. School, good education and so much more for our everyday lives…. As a woman — a mother, a grandmother — I hope she respects the millions of votes she received. I wish her luck, health, and that she not forget us!

A week after elections, Brazilian women bloggers continue to shout out in chorus: yes, she can.

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